Netflix Recommendation: “The Fear of 13” Is An Incredible Documentary
We have seen time-and-time again documentaries that center on someone who is in prison, or on death row, telling their story of innocence and giving you compelling facts to back up their story. This last December was the most recent time when Netflix released the documentary series “Making A Murderer” and the whole country lost their minds trying to crack the case and prove that Steven Avery was either not guilty or guilty of the crimes he was accused of. It’s a natural reaction for most people: sympathizing with someone when they are the one telling you their story; siding with them and immediately believing everything they tell you. Is it because we’re good people and want to believe everyone? Maybe. It’s also because we don’t want to believe that anyone is capable of carrying out the crimes these people have been said to have done. We want to believe no one would ever hurt another living soul; and so we hope, we believe, we form opinions, and we do whatever we can to prove that these people didn’t do it.
From the beginning, “The Fear of 13” is a much different documentary. We are told upfront that Nick Yarris, an inmate on death row for the last twenty-three years, has tried many times to prove his own innocence and failed. Out of options and ready to get it over with, Yarris writes to a judge and asks that they just carry out his death sentence and put an end to it all. And that’s where our story starts. I settled in and got ready to pass judgement, or grant sympathy, to a man I have never met. The facts were going to be put in front of me and I was going to be able to form an opinion despite never having anyone ask me for one. I was going to get to play judge and jury. From the start, however, I found myself more captivated with Yarris himself. The way he carried himself, the way he poetically spoke and told stories that happened in solitary confinement. The way he described that time is more like a calendar than a clock when you’re by yourself and sometimes the months fly by and other times he feels every single minute as it slowly turns to the next. Here was a man that wasn’t trying to come out and say, “I didn’t do it. I’m innocent”. He just wanted to tell his story; and it’s a captivating one. Every gritty detail of his life, every moment of violence and beauty, fear and joy, Yarris is able to express in an intelligent way and I found myself not able to look away for even a second. Guilty or not, this man was brilliant. This man had a talent. And I liked him for that if for nothing else.
As Yarris is telling us these stories, director David Sington is pairing them up with perfect reenactments that not only enhance the scene, but make you feel that you were there and experienced everything Yarris did. The expertise that Sington shows almost convinces you that Yarris’s memories are your own. Or at the very least that you were there when these moments happened. When Yarris begins recounting a story of how the inmates in solitary confinement would be beaten badly if they so much as said a word and then one day an inmate began to belt out a soulful song that grabbed the attention of everyone that heard it, Sington adds in someone singing the song that was sung that day as he shows you lines of cells and the polished floors of solitary confinement. You get goosebumps as the recording echoes off of the walls and up and down the stairs; you try to see where the music is coming from until you just get carried away with the moment. It’s beautiful moments like these that I was not expecting but want to relive again and again.
What made this documentary so great was that Yarris didn’t need Sington, and vice versa, to tell a compelling story, yet both men’s versions of what happened compliment each other so well. Yarris’s life story is a sad one, but one that is also full of promise and hope. The film gets its title from Yarris having spent countless hours, months, and years reading any book he could get his hands on. How he taught himself to read and write, and how he was able to remember every single word that he hadn’t known before that moment. “Triskaidekaphobia” – the fear of the number 13.